Aarn Guiding Light: review

Our story with Aarn starts on Te Araroa in New Zealand. When we first started encountering these packs we frowned at them with great skepticism, wondering how awkward it must be walking with those pockets on the front of your body. We didn’t really understand the point of it, and we decided we did not like the looks of it. For a long time, we remained skeptical, until we started realizing that every hiker we ever met who used those packs was outrunning us all the time. We noticed how our friends with Aarn packs walked for hours and hours on end without any complaining, how they were not sore in their backs and shoulders at the end of the day. So when we took off to Australia we decided that we would exchange our previous packs for Aarn Models. After walking 1000km on the Bibbulmun Track using the Peak Aspiration, we never wanted to buy a normal backpack again.

The Peak Aspiration is a wonderful pack that we have enjoyed using throughout the years. However, now that our scope of outdoor activities has expanded to include also multi-day-winter and packrafting trips, we simply needed a pack that offered more volume. As we still didn’t want to buy a normal backpack, we compared several models and finally decided in cooperation with Sqoop.no that we would test out the Guiding Light model.

Please note that Aarn Bodypacks are very technical backpacks, and we will not be going into detail here on the different systems making up the load carrying system (U, Free, Multi and X flow) or how to adjust the pack to your body. For this, both Aarn and Sqoop have uploaded a series of instructions (both in writing and with very convenient short clips that show what to do), please visit aarnpacks.com or sqoop.no for more information.

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Thanks to the balance pockets you can keep a better posture while walking, resulting in less fatigue. Here we just ascended 1500 meters to Aurland’s highest point, Blåskavlen.

SPECS

Volume (approx.) S 57 L               L 65 L

Weight max/min: S 1.87/ 1.75 kg  L 2/ 1.92 kg

Dimensions S (cm) Height: 70  Width: 40  Depth (front-back): 25

Dimensions L (cm) Height: 80  Width: 40  Depth (front-back): 25

Key Fabrics 500D codura nylon; 210D, 40D ripstop nylon

Colour Green/grey

Options * All Balance Pockets, Gear Racks & Bags * Pelvic Form Hipbelt (S) (L) * X Flow chest straps

USAGE REVIEW

COMFORT

Just as with the Peak Aspiration, the first thing we noticed about the pack was how many adjustments you are able to make; everything from the backlenght to the width and angle of the hipbelts, it was incredible how much you can fiddle with it in order to create a perfect fit. We needed to consult Aarn’s website again as we couldn’t get the packs entirely right from memory. It took a few trips up in the mountains until we got it right. Once we figured it out it felt like this pack too had been custom made for our bodies, and this is for sure one of our favourite features about Aarn bodypacks.

The shoulder straps on the pack are thin and not as well padded as any normal backpack. This is of course based on the fact that the straps on an Aarn pack should only gently rest on the shoulders, as the weight is balanced between backpack and front pockets and diverted to the hips. Thanks to the special Mono Mesh fabric they auto-mold to the exact slope of the shoulder, making them extra comfortable to wear. One point to note is that while this all works fantastically while using the front pockets, but carrying a fully loaded Aarn pack without the front pockets can make the shoulder straps uncomfortable as they dig themselves into the shoulders.

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Thanks to the waterproof liners and the rollup system, everything inside the pack remains dry and we never have to stop to put on pack covers. This makes it easy to keep moving on days with changeable weather. Peak Aspiration is pictured here, but the system for the Guiding Light is identical.

FEATURES AND WATERPROOFNESS

According to Aarn, Guiding Light is “optimised for climbing, skiing, and hiking with trekking poles. Guiding Light allows dynamic movement and superb access to backcountry tools. Developed with NZ climbers, the U Flow systems allow superb agility with load stability and extend your reach to maximise your performance in a way not possible with other packs.” The Guiding Light model was designed in cooperation with the National Climbing Association of New Zealand, resulting in some very clever solutions for placing gear, with very convenient solutions for placing crampons and ice axes for example.

One feature particularly directed towards climbers is the rope door, situated directly behind your head. This zippered flap gives direct access to the pack’s main compartment, meaning you can keep your rope inside of your pack while feeding out rope from behind your head. If you are not carrying a rope, this compartment also functions perfectly well as a hydration port and it provides access to the main compartment in case you are not using the pack liners.

We’ve used this backpack for spring trips where we still needed to carry ice axes, crampons, snow shoes, and heavier winter equipment. We found it to be a very convenient backpack for this purpose and we would certainly take it on climbing trips as well.

While the canvas of the pack is water-repellant, both the backpack and the front pockets become waterproof thanks to the integrated (but removable) liners on the inside of the pack/front pockets. Underneath the top lid the pack can be closed with a roll-up system, similar to a drybag, to keep any moisture out. We still carry sensitive material such as electronics, down jackets, down sleeping bags in an extra dry bag, just in case. But it’s nice to skip the hassle of putting rain covers on an off, especially on days where the weather is highly changeable. If it starts to rain and we already have our rain jackets on, we can just keep walking, without having to worry about our backpacks and what’s inside.

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The tough canvas fabric can take a beating. When descending from this mountain the terrain became so steep we decided to slide and go down on all fours for 900 meters. Our pants didn’t live, but the pack remained unharmed.

DURABILITY

The heavy duty 500D Codura nylon, 210D and 40D ripstop nylon can take a proper beating. Our first Aarn Stronglite pack has survived for almost 1500km now, going on rough hikes in Australia, Norway and Sweden. The Guiding Light model is constructed from the same fabric and though we have not used it equally a lot, we trust it to survive our upcoming trip to Nepal without any problems (we will update on this later).

However, it is even more impressive to mention that the Aarn Ultralite packs, such as their Featherlite Freedom that our friends used, survived all the hardships of the 3000+km Te Araroa Trail. We didn’t see a single Aarn product knuckle under when going got rough and this is truly impressive!

SOME ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

No pack is perfect, and though we’ve loved using Guiding Light we have encountered a few issues while testing it, most of which can be remedied with a little patience.

Aarn is making some adjustments and finetuning their backpacks resulting in an older generation of packs still being sold that does not fit with the newer generations of front pockets, hip belts, clips etc. The front pockets we received with the Guiding Light did not fit the belt and neither did the smaller hipbelts we requested. This created frustrations as the pack couldn’t always fully live up to its potential during our test period. It was confusing for us who already knew the system from before, so for someone who is just switching over to the Aarn Bodypack this could create a lot of frustration. This in part is due to a lack of knowledge within Norway on the bodypack system and the different models that exist. However, with the help of Tommy from Sqoop.no we found (mostly very easy) solutions for most of the problems so that all parts of the pack become compatible with one another.

One final thing that made us doubt taking the Guiding Light to Nepal is its weight. At 1.87kg it is not the lightest pack for its volume, which is mostly due to its construction in the heavy 500D Codura nylon fabric. Thus, its main competitor was the Natural Balance model. We made our call not to make weight a main priority in this case based upon two reasons:

  • due to the versatility of this pack, offering a great range of options to attach gear on the outside. This is practical for climbing, winter and packrafting trips. This will also serve us well in Nepal for those stretches where we will need crampons and ice axes.
  • the harsh character of Himalayan trails and weather made us think that a sturdy canvas fabric would better withstand the elements than its lighter weight alternative

Finally, because the pack is so comfortable to carry these added 200-300 grams do not make a huge difference in terms of carrying comfort.

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Setting up camp in Jotunheimen. Guiding Light is on the left, with ice axe and crampons attached on the outside. 

CONCLUSION

Though not the lightest backpack on the market, Aarn’s Guiding Light is a very functional and durable backpack that offers enough volume for extended trips in all seasons and enough carrying comfort not to bulk under the gear. We are looking forward to getting everything out of this backpack on our upcoming trip to Nepal. This versatile pack is perfect for climbing trips due to its climbing-specific make-up, though we see many good options for attaching packrafting gear as well. As Aarn continues to grow and redevelop their products we are looking forward to the further evolution of this pack.

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